Deliberately Playing Copyrighted Music to Avoid Being Live-Streamed

Vice is reporting on a new police hack: playing copyrighted music when being filmed by citizens, trying to provoke social media sites into taking the videos down and maybe even banning the filmers:

In a separate part of the video, which Devermont says was filmed later that same afternoon, Devermont approaches [BHPD Sgt. Billy] Fair outside. The interaction plays out almost exactly like it did in the department — when Devermont starts asking questions, Fair turns on the music.

Devermont backs away, and asks him to stop playing music. Fair says “I can’t hear you” — again, despite holding a phone that is blasting tunes.

Later, Fair starts berating Devermont’s livestreaming account, saying “I read the comments [on your account], they talk about how fake you are.” He then holds out his phone, which is still on full blast, and walks toward Devermont, saying “Listen to the music”.

In a statement emailed to VICE News, Beverly Hills PD said that “the playing of music while accepting a complaint or answering questions is not a procedure that has been recommended by Beverly Hills Police command staff,” and that the videos of Fair were “currently under review.”

However, this is not the first time that a Beverly Hills police officer has done this, nor is Fair the only one.

In an archived clip from a livestream shared privately to VICE Media that Devermont has not publicly reposted but he says was taken weeks ago, another officer can be seen quickly swiping through his phone as Devermont approaches. By the time Devermont is close enough to speak to him, the officer’s phone is already blasting “In My Life” by the Beatles — a group whose rightsholders have notoriously sued Apple numerous times. If you want to get someone in trouble for copyright infringement, the Beatles are quite possibly your best bet.

As Devermont asks about the music, the officer points the phone at him, asking, “Do you like it?”

Clever, really, and an illustration of the problem with context-free copyright enforcement.

Posted on February 15, 2021 at 1:11 PM16 Comments

Comments

Not A Lawyer February 15, 2021 1:33 PM

I’ll start off by saying I have no understanding of the intricacies of the law in this realm, and so my question comes from pure ignorance and is just that (and it was provoked by your side-thought of “context-free copyright enforcement”):

Let’s say that I am live-streaming, and suddenly person B starts playing copyrighted content; what is the culpability of each person according to the law?
Could I, even though I am the ‘streamer of record’, claim something similar to a Section 230 and say “Look man, I’m just the conduit”?

I know this doesn’t really address the whole “My live stream of my friend getting 7 warning shots in the back got taken down and so I couldn’t tell the world” deal, but I’m genuinely interested into what the law says…

I am also interested into whether or not there would be an avenue to force the copyright holder to sue the player-of-copyrighted-materials instead of me; maybe even force them to win to get rid of this nasty type of business if they wish to retain the copyright?

JonKnowsNothing February 15, 2021 1:41 PM

@All

re:Background capture of copyright music

Another aspect for this use, is in identifying multiple phones in a group situation.

If n-phones are on or recording or have any of the audio command systems active, all the phones in the vicinity of the source broadcasting phone they will pick up the poisoned-audio stream.

On the back end, using the same DRM processes, LEAs can ID all the phones in within their geofence area warrants. Particularly when they can sync up the audio portions as proof that they were in a location at the same time.

There is probably no reason that the poisoned-audio needs to be audible, it just needs to trigger the DRM AI making the job easier for LEAs because they now have a DRM violation for parallel construction.

If the targeting is done in tight sequence, the larger LEAs can broadcast or spew multiple poisoned audio streams and capture different groups or the movement of a group.

I would not be surprised if the Jan 6 folks are being traced using such a tool. The Jan 6 mob surely was not singing Kum ba yah in the Capitol.

ht tps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumbaya
(url fractured to prevent autorun)

Stuart Lynne February 15, 2021 2:40 PM

Can we assume that the police have paid for a license to play music in public?

Or will we see lawsuits to recover damages on behalf of the license holders?

An interesting interpretation of the Copyright law might involve suing the police for all of the broadcasting of the music if it can be shown that they (the police) intentionally played the music so that it would be broadcast. Again they would need a different type of license for that.

David Boles February 15, 2021 3:03 PM

There’s no need to use recorded music. The officer could also quite easily just “sing” a response using a made up melody in real time and immediately claim a Copyright-in-situ, in their name, or the department’s, and have an even stronger DMCA takedown claim without having to reply upon third party notification.

The workaround is to upload the video without the tainted wild audio, and then open caption everything that is being said — these bad actors are more concerned with how they look, and what they are doing than how, or what, they say or play — or sing.

Then, later, if there’s a complaint filed by the officer or the department, as to the accuracy of the video captions, then the original video with melody-contaminated wild audio gets put into legal play by them, and would be made available for verification as part of the discovery process; the end result would still be the same — we get to see exactly what happened despite the attempt to suppress via the invocation of a Copyrighted song.

Clive Robinson February 15, 2021 3:18 PM

@ Not A Lawyer,

In one respect it’s not the law that matters, though arguably it’s a “Derived work” so has it’s own copyright, or even “fair use”.

I suspect the reason is that U-Tube will takedown immediately then sit on a decision for 28days by which time the Police have pushed their story into the news cycle hard enough to make it the one most people will remember, not the reality that finally dribbles out four to eight news cycles later when the actuall story has faded from view.

Look on it as just a new PR tool for scumbag types and you will not be too far off the mark.

Anon Y. Mouse February 15, 2021 3:20 PM

There’s no need to use recorded music. The officer could also quite easily
just “sing” a response using a made up melody in real time and immediately
claim a Copyright-in-situ, in their name, or the department’s, and have an
even stronger DMCA takedown claim without having to reply upon third party
notification.

IANAL, but I believe that government employees and officials, when acting in
their official capacity, do not have the same 1st amendment protections etc.
as private citizens. In this case, possibly the copyright would be in the
public domain.

Anonymous February 15, 2021 3:28 PM

or maybe somebody just invent an app that can scramble background music. assume for yourself that this is coming …

uh, Mike February 15, 2021 4:28 PM

Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

Clive Robinson February 15, 2021 4:58 PM

@ Anonymous,

or maybe somebody just invent an app that can scramble background music.

Whilst it would be reasonably simple to design a system to in effect play the same tune but amplitude inverted and matched with phase matching (the Russians did this with analog four track tech back in the early 1960’s around six decades ago). I’m not sure if it would be easy to do in real time due to random fluctuations let alone finding the right track quickly enough.

But whilst “nulling” would be legal, I’ve a feeling that scrambling would be unacceptable to the RIAA or other US royalty grabbers, who would no doubt argue it was “encryption” being used so that others could unlock it to avoid paying dues. It does not matter if they have a snow flakes chance in hell of winning, that would not be the point, bankrupting people and picking over the bones as an example to others is.

But a thought does occur, they could go after the individual officer as a private person not an emoloyee. Then if either the employer or the blue union supported they could adjoin them in the action. Unions and municipal employers tend to have lots of assets to go after even though they might be cash poor.

Impossibly Stupid February 15, 2021 5:09 PM

@Not A Lawyer

Let’s say that I am live-streaming, and suddenly person B starts playing copyrighted content; what is the culpability of each person according to the law?

Also not a lawyer, but B’s actions really sound like an unauthorized public performance of copyrighted material. The argument could easily be made that the police should be 100% on the hook for any consequences of their actions in that regard, but then I would have said the same about far more grievous actions they’ve taken.

@JonKnowsNothing

If n-phones are on or recording or have any of the audio command systems active, all the phones in the vicinity of the source broadcasting phone they will pick up the poisoned-audio stream.

But, interestingly, that kind of triangulation really does allow you to identify all the phones and localize them. That means the resulting 2D/3D soundscape can be manipulated and filtered to remove the audio source that is unwanted.

So, really, a simple technical solution presents itself: noise cancellation. If your algorithm can identify unauthorized copyrighted music as being present, it should be easy to simply apply the inverted audio signal to eliminate it. No need to take down the whole video. No need to mute.

@David Boles

The officer could also quite easily just “sing” a response using a made up melody in real time and immediately claim a Copyright-in-situ, in their name, or the department’s, and have an even stronger DMCA takedown claim without having to reply upon third party notification.

I think it’s just the opposite. Like Clive said, creating an unauthorized derivative work is likely a bigger problem for the cops, especially if it were intentially being done to circumvent the original copyright. Of course, it’s all moot if police are never held accountable for their abuse of power; if they can get away with it for matters of life and death, it’s hard to believe that copyright lawyers are going to make a dent. Though stranger things have happened . . .

Anonymous February 15, 2021 5:18 PM

Guys, seriously stop the armchair lawyering. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

This isn’t about copyright, it’s about creating the ability to harass reporters for reporting on police. Your legal theories are getting absurd. Ultimately there is no copyright that attaches at all because there is a noteworthy, newsworthy event, so the fair use test would apply. The court would never even make it past the fair use doctrine. It’s why the NFL and such can’t block people from posting actual newsworthy (read criminal or tortious) events despite filming from the stands no matter what the terms of stadium access state. The problem is Google et al don’t use the legal standards to test for fair use. They use unmanned bots and over ambitious DMCA take down notices from anyone willing to put an X next to the Signed by:.

It won’t stop actual newsworthy events from making it to the public consciousness or public domain, but it will slow it down some unless the people doing the recording have mega money to fight suits. Usually they won’t. You just give a local reporter the footage and let them air it on the 6 o’clock news. Youtube and other such services aren’t the end all be all of “getting the word out”. People seem to be forgetting that.

David February 15, 2021 5:32 PM

Like Clive said, creating an unauthorized derivative work is likely a bigger problem for the cops, especially if it were intentially being done to circumvent the original copyright.

My point was that the song created in real time was invented by the officer — some silly, off-tune, horrible melody would be enough to start a claim of infringement upon video publication. Even whistling a nonsensical melody would work, too; and I believe the Copyright would be valid for the officer, or the department, or the city, upon first utterance.

What does copyright protect?
Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html

So, yes, my argument is a kludge, but one that could still be worked to punish if the want was greater than the moment.

Impossibly Stupid February 16, 2021 12:07 AM

@Anonymous

The problem is Google et al don’t use the legal standards to test for fair use.

I think most everyone understands that, and that’s why it is fun to do a little “armchair lawyering” to explore why Google’s behavior is wrongheaded. Like I said, I don’t even think it rises to a legal issue. If you have the technology to automatically detect the use of a copyrighted work, you likewise should have the ability to automatically remove it without substantially affecting the rest of the content.

@David

My point was that the song created in real time was invented by the officer — some silly, off-tune, horrible melody would be enough to start a claim of infringement upon video publication.

But, then, it doesn’t have to be music at all! Anyone could try to claim that anything they ever do or say is a creative work deserving of protection. In general, I don’t think that’ll fly for government employees (at least at the federal level). Regardless, nothing “performed” in the moment would be detectable by a bot monitoring a live stream. It’d require a future DMCA notice (or whatever), which would likely be fought.

Jon February 17, 2021 6:14 AM

@ Anonymous

Guys, seriously stop the armchair lawyering.

This isn’t about the law. This is about policemen using automated video takedown “services” in order to automaticallytake down videos of policemen misbehaving, if posted to any of the major video distribution channels.

You just give a local reporter the footage and let them air it on the 6 o’clock news.

Which is good legal advice (even if I didn’t pay for it 🙂 but not exactly accessible to everyone, and what if the reporter or their higher-ups just decide to squash the whole report? Where do you post it now?

This is exactly the math they’re calculating with – and why it’s so perniciously nasty. J.

TM February 22, 2021 4:00 AM

Doesn’t the fact that we are debating these incidents demonstrate that this police strategy may not be the smartest move? Although it is inventive, gotta admit that…

Tom March 16, 2021 12:54 AM

There is one easy way now to defeat this. NVDIA RTX VOICE, which can run on most modern NVDIA GPUs can remove noises AND music. Just process the sound thru this. There is a slider to adjust the degree of removal. It uses AI to pick out voice. It would probably help if there is a lot of wild noise.

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